Day: April 7, 2017

Yes, Kosovo needs stronger security forces

I spoke this morning (along with President Thaci, the American and French ambassadors  as well as Deputy Prime Minister Branimir Stojanovic) at a conference in Pristina on the future of Kosovo’s security forces (KSF), which until now have been limited. Here are the speaking notes I prepared:

  1. It is a pleasure to be back in Pristina to discuss a subject I had the privilege of working on about five long years ago: future requirements for Kosovo security forces and ways of meeting them.
  1. I would like to underline that I speak only for myself and will not address the constitutional and legal issues.
  1. A paper I was involved in writing then cited five security risks to Kosovo:
  • Continued de facto Serbian control of parallel structures in northern Kosovo and the persistence in that area of smuggling and other organized crime activities.
  • A Serbian armored incursion that seeks to establish overt control over northern Kosovo and possibly some monasteries or enclaves south of the Ibar River.
  • Political extremism that aims by violent means to change the constitutional order in a religious or nationalist direction.
  • Organized crime activities that aim to capture the state and subvert it for criminal purposes.
  • The possibility of deteriorating social and economic conditions in a young and rapidly growing population.
  1. Kosovo already has within its sovereign control the means to respond to four out of five of these security risks. Your police, courts, parliament, economic policies, and international relations are the appropriate means, though not yet always equal to the tasks.
  1. The only missing means concern number 2: a Serbian armed incursion that seeks to establish overt control over northern Kosovo and possibly some monasteries or enclaves south of the Ibar River.
  1. My friends in Belgrade—and I am pleased to say that I do have many there—will instantly say there is no need to fear that.
  1. I agree with them most days. Serbia has far more important things to concern itself with.
  1. But I can’t advise basing a security policy and the security forces entrusted with implementing it on assumptions. Sometimes things happen—as they did in March 2004—that make the unlikely possible.
  1. In the nine years since independence, Kosovo has enjoyed the privilege of not worrying too much about that, because KFOR defends the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  1. That however won’t last forever. NATO too has other things to worry about and should not remain forever in Kosovo, which will want to become a security producer and a full member of NATO rather than a security consumer.
  1. Once NATO is gone, you will need the capacity to defend yourselves, at least for the couple of weeks it will take for your allies to respond to a contingency.
  1. This raises two issues: the process by which you get strengthened security forces and the character of those security forces.
  1. The process will require U.S. and European support.
  1. Washington and Brussels will want you to make a genuine effort to obtain Serb concurrence and participation.
  1. What Serbs need more than anything else is confidence that the Kosovo Security Force will not be used against them.
  1. The KSF role should be focused on external threats and contributions to international missions, not on law and order inside Kosovo.
  1. The question of what kind of security forces you will need depends on the threats you face. If the threat of a Serbian incursion is eliminated, Kosovo will not need forces designed to respond to it.
  1. Today however Serbian capabilities are already all too real, and Russian transfers to Belgrade of aircraft, tanks and other equipment will make them loom larger in the future.
  1. Those weapons, and the means to respond to them, are expensive. Kosovo and Serbia would be far better off without the costs of preparing for war against each other.
  1. So the question is: what could remove that threat, lessen the risk, and reduce the costs?
  1. Serbia could: by recognizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo, or at least allowing it to enter the United Nations, and exchanging diplomatic representatives with it.
  1. Doing so would enable Kosovo to limit the capabilities of its security forces and focus them on international missions, which is appropriate given how much the country has benefited from them in the past.
  1. With Aleksandar Vucic soon to be inaugurated as President of Serbia, it seems to me the time for a grand bargain between Pristina and Belgrade, and with Serbs in Kosovo, is near.
  1. President, I am ambitious. I’m just a professor, so I can afford to be.
  1. I would like to see resolution of all the big outstanding issues in a package deal: composition of the Kosovo isSecurity Force, UN membership and exchange of diplomatic representatives, and creation of the Association of Serb Municipalities consistent with the Kosovo constitution.
  1. That’s asking a lot, but not I think too much.
  1. Serbia at this point needs to focus on its path to the European Union. Any conflict with Kosovo would make that difficult.
  1. I am confident Serbia will not become an EU member without exchanging diplomatic representatives with Kosovo, enabling it to focus on the needs of its citizens.
  1. Kosovo likewise needs to concentrate on fulfilling the aspirations of its citizens for better and more secure lives, including candidacy for EU membership.
  1. Neither Kosovo nor Serbia would benefit from a costly arms race or from frictions that might escalate to armed conflict.
  1. To the contrary: it is time even now for your chiefs of staff to meet and begin the normal communication and collaboration that is happily standard among European countries, even countries that fought far more terrible wars than Kosovo and Serbia.
  1. You can expect to go much farther than that in the future: Serbia and Kosovo will someday be allies and fight together on foreign shores. The time to begin preparing for that day is now.
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Military action needs diplomatic follow up

Today’s American cruise missile strike on a Syrian base responsible for the chemical weapons attacks in Idlib province will no doubt do wonders for President Trump’s reputation as a man of action. He has done what President Obama hesitated to do in 2013, without consulting Congress or America’s allies (both of which presented obstacles four years ago).

The military significance of the American strike will be limited. The Russians, who had forces in harm’s way, were told in advance, so more than likely the Syrians knew as well. If so, they will have moved their military assets and hunkered down for what they knew would be a limited-duration attack. The Russians and Syrians have protested loudly that the attack is an act of aggression.

The political significance of the strike is still undetermined. Secretary of State Tillerson is talking about a coalition to remove Assad from power, but at the same time he refers to the Geneva talks that have so far led nowhere. Iranian and Russian support for Assad still seems solid. While both mumble about not being wedded to him, they have backed him repeatedly, because they can’t imagine doing better with any conceivable successor. Transition to them means the end of their enormous influence in Syria.

The Trump Administration has turned around completely on Assad. No more than a week ago it was signaling that Assad could stay. Now it is wanting him to leave. But it doesn’t appear to have a diplomatic and political plan to make that happen. National Security Adviser McMaster and Secretary of Defense Mattis have demonstrated, once again, how quickly America’s military instrument can be brought to bear. But the State Department—demoralized and without most of its senior leadership—is in nowhere near the same shape.

This attack could make the situation in Syria even more complicated and difficult to resolve than it has been for six long years. It could also mark the beginning of the end, if Washington can rally a real coalition against both Assad and the Islamic State. The outcome depends on diplomatic skills that have so far proven lacking. Let’s hope the Administration finds them quickly.

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